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No Escape 

This summer's movies all have a dark streak of reality

click to enlarge SAVIOR Even the Superman reboot 'Man of Steel' has a political undertone.
  • SAVIOR Even the Superman reboot 'Man of Steel' has a political undertone.

A curdled version of "America the Beautiful" plays in the trailer for the home-invasion thriller 'The Purge' (June 7), and some kind of equally subtle political allegory can be discerned in the gated community taken to outer space in 'Elysium' (Aug. 9), which depicts a have-not/got-more civil war in the year 2154. The executive mansion gets it yet again in 'White House Down' (June 28). Escapism keeps getting harder to find, even in summer movies—and this year, they're darker than ever.

The previews for 'Man of Steel' (June 14) reveal that our hero (Henry Cavill) is a war refugee and that the "S" on his mighty chest is actually a Kryptonian rune for "hope." This potential Obamaism may trigger wails of "Benghazi!" among loyal right-wingers, even if in Man of Steel the crypto-religious origin story is once again rehashed. Russell Crowe plays the godly Jor-El, while Kevin Costner appears as a corn-fed St. Joseph to the immaculate superhero. Through youthful confusion, Superman rises to face the Hitler of Krypton, General Zod (Michael Shannon). Ad astra per aspera.

Joss Whedon used to encourage impromptu Shakespeare readings during rehearsals for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and in that tactic lies the basis of 'Much Ado About Nothing' (June 7), a low-budget Shakespeare adaptation featuring modern dress, presented in black-and-white and shot in the spurious Tuscany of Santa Monica hillside mansions. Amy Acker from TV's Angel makes a witty Beatrice, with Alexis Denisof as a sarcastic Benedick determined not to marry ("thrust the neck into a yoke, wear the print of it, and sigh away Sundays").

Simply colossal, and perhaps rekindling the love of super-robots that Michael Bay tainted in three lousy Transformer movies, 'Pacific Rim' (July 12) is fantasy creator Guillermo del Toro's marriage of Japanese kaiju with a plot seemingly pilfered from John Wyndham's 1953 novel The Kraken Wakes. An alien enemy nested in the oceans repelled with skyscraper-size battle robots called "jaegers"—it's big, big, big.

Bright-but-not-brittle director Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) collaborates on 'Frances Ha' (May 17) with the ever-rising Greta Gerwig, who was last glimpsed in the most recent Woody Allen film. She co-writes this comedy about a hapless New Yorker who wants to be a dancer. Gerwig's persisted through a string of half-baked indie movies. She ought to be a star by now, and Frances Ha may finish the job.

'World War Z' (June 21), directed by Marc Foster, may either be the flop that finally ends the zombie craze or sparks a whole new round. Brad Pitt plays a U.N. investigator piecing together accounts of the global conflict. Rewrites galore have plagued the project, so the only certainty is that the film has Pitt and several hundred million zombies.

Maybe it's the graveyard wit, maybe it's the campiness, maybe it's the attention to glowing fine surfaces in the era when the digital changeover is making for a lot of ugly movies, but Pedro Almodóvar is one of the few directors who makes completionists out of the hardest to please. 'I'm So Excited' (June 28) follows a damaged and seemingly doomed plane of fools headed for Mexico City in an airborne allegory about the horrors of the Spanish economy.

For years, the sweet, bizarre and convulsive Kristen Wiig supported the entire cast of Saturday Night Live on her shoulders. 'Girl Most Likely' (July 19) is described as Wiig's passion project. She plays a cracked-up boomerang girl bounced off the New York theater scene who moves in with her mean mom (Annette Bening) and her mom's mendacious pal (one of the underrated funny ones, Matt Dillon).

Finally, director Rick Rowley's 'Dirty Wars' (June 7) documents Jeremy Scahill, the journalist investigating the Joint Special Operations Command, which tracks and kills terrorists from Yemen to Central Asia . . . or people who to our best knowledge are terrorists . . . or people who were driving in a truck that was the same make of truck that a sought terrorist was known to drive . . . or people who were just in the wrong tent at the wrong time.

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